How to Rejoin the Workforce After a Break

Mind the Gap signage
Job gaps can be hard to overcome | Marianna Massey/Getty Images

It’s hard enough to get a job right out of high school or college, but attempting to reenter the workforce after a long break can be especially difficult because potential employers can see a big space on your resume as a red flag, or worry that your skills have become obsolete because you took a break. In order to compete with people who haven’t had a break, or have fresher skills than you do, you will need to take an aggressive stance on your job search.

Whether you became a stay-at-home dad (which included two million men in 2012, according to the Pew Research center), had to leave to take care of a sick parent or family member, or simply left for another reason, you will need to prove that you should be hired above other candidates. Rejoining the workforce requires a bit of extra practice. Here’s how to get started.

1. Tweak your resume

Resume | Source: iStock

A chronological resume isn’t necessarily the right choice for everyone, and this might be especially true if you took a large amount of time off. Instead of choosing a chronological resume, consider creating a functional resume. This type of resume can highlight your skills and abilities, and downplay any gaps you have on your resume. You can also consider a combination resume; first you should include a description of your skills and qualifications, and then you can list your employment history in reverse-chronological order. The combination resume will make it more likely that hiring manager will see your qualifications and your ability to do the job before they notice your employment gap.

2. Explain the gaps

You can’t really hide your employment gaps, and refusing to acknowledge or explain them only gives employers more of a reason to skip over your application. According to Bronwen Hann writing for LinkedIn, employers may get the wrong impression from a gap (for example, you don’t want an employer to mistake a medical leave for an inability to get a job). Hann explains that it is important to explain why you were let go from your previous job, keep it positive when referring to why you left (and explain if it was a reasonable leave–such as a sabbatical or family matter), emphasize any activities you undertook while away, and be honest.

The easiest way to explain the reasoning behind the gap might be in your cover letter, but if the employer wants more details, then you might find that the interview is a more appropriate place.

3. Get current

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Ideally if you have a gap on your resume, you have been able to continue to work part-time, volunteer, or take classes. However, sometimes this just isn’t possible. If you have continued to work on your professional development, be sure to stress that fact on your resume and in your cover letter. If not, now is the time to update your skills. It’s hard to get caught up on months of industry updates, but you should try to research industry news. Taking a class, attending a conference, meeting with experts in your field, joining a professional organization, or volunteering can all help you get back on track.

4. Be ready

If you took a long break, you may need to reestablish your connections in addition to your skills. Contact as many people as you can who might be able to help you in your job search; networking is an essential part of getting a job. Also, be sure to research the companies that you are interviewing at, and if possible, even do a few mock interviews with friends or contacts if you can.

Some companies are now establishing internships specifically meant for people trying to reenter the workforce; these internships are somewhat like a temporary job because they allow employers to see how effective you are at the job without officially hiring you (but you may very well end up with a job at the end of the internship). iRelaunch is a great resource for career relaunchers.

Once you have your resume ready, your job skills updated, and you feel confident that you can interview well, you need to start spending serious time applying for jobs. It’s also a good idea to go to as many in-person meetings as you can, and consider attending job fairs. Staffing agencies can also help you get your foot in the door.